I just learned that the California Division of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("The Mormons") issued a declaration to all of their California stakes on pending state legislation regarding marriage and gay rights yesterday (Sunday, May 23). The declaration was read in their adult Sunday School groups (specifically, the (all-male) "Priesthood" and (all-female) "Relief Society" meetings) by a representative of the Stake Presidency at the start of the meetings.
The letter addressed a piece of legislation asking for the members' support of a bill outlawing the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. While no such marriages are currently granted by any state in the U.S., the purpose (as stated by the presenter) was to 'close up the loopholes' in the current California 'Defense of Marriage' Act. The letter (or the presenter, it's not clear which was the source) also indicated that there was a new lobbying group just formed called the 'Defense of Marriage Association (DoMA)' that would be pushing for passage of this bill. He then went on to state that the 'Gay Marriage Lobby' had already vowed to spend millions of dollars to fight this bill and this group (This, despite saying that the DoMA group had just been formed). The letter/presenter also attacked several other pending legislative bills which would extend the coverage of current anti-discrimination laws to include 'sexual orientation'. Such bills included one to prohibit employers and landlords from inquiring about an applicant's sexual orientation; one to include sexual orientation in the existing California public school 'tolerance' curriculum; and one to include sexual orientation in the list of anti-discrimination issues that require educational administrators to step in and take action if a student is harassed or threatened.
The presenter mentioned these bills in a negative tone, clearly indicating that the church leaders did not support them. But the presenter went further, echoing many erroneous statements about these bills, statements that have been promulgated by groups like the Christian Coalition and which have been stated (and refuted) numerous times in letters to the local newspaper. Such erroneous statements made by the presenter included the statement that these bills would require Christian businesspeople (I believe the example given was a 'Christian bookstore owner') and private Christian schools to hire gay staff; that these bills would force educators to promote the gay lifestyle to our children; and that all of these bills, of course, would contribute to the breakdown of moral fabric in our society and diminish the divine sanctity of marriage.
I don't have a particular problem with a group of people opposing or promoting legislative bills that cater to their world views; that is within their constitutional rights. Nor do I believe there is anything illegal or unconstitutional, per se, in what occurred. (Is there? If anyone else knows differently, I would dearly love to learn about it. I am, of course, alarmed at the opposition being rallied against these bills and hope that anyone else on this list who is as alarmed as I am take a few minutes to contact their local California legislator to show their support of these bills.)
But I am quite bothered at the tactics used in rallying this opposition. I am bothered that a religious meeting was exploited by religious leaders to promote a political position. The LDS church sends out special letters from Salt Lake City headquarters to its members all of the time; but it is not at all typical to have those letters read by a church leader to their members during Sunday School services, they are usually read to the entire congregation during the 'Sacrament' meeting. So this action alone implied to its members that this issue had 'more import' and urgency than most church issues.
I am also bothered that the church (or at least one leader) so willingly passed on erroneous or misleading information that bolstered their viewpoint - in essence, lied to their members in order to gain support. (It's unclear whether such misrepresentation was done deliberately or negligently - but what's disturbing is that they can and do get away with it with impunity.) They did this verbally and unannounced, within the confines of their organization, making it almost impossible for anyone on the outside to know what they are doing and anyone on the inside to verify the actual position of the church (vs. 'what they thought they heard', or what the presenter added ad-hoc with the letter). How does anyone inside or outside the church counter such subversive tactics? How does anyone inside or outside the church correct errors or misrepresentations made in this manner?
And of course, the church leadership does all of this with legislative bills that do not impact them in any way, regarding people that 99% of their members never come in contact with - How many gay Mormons are there around, let alone how many are trying to get married? - thus, creating fear and bigotry against an unknown, invisible populace. All of this is done by an organization that does not contribute a dime to running the government or the community, but in fact could be considered a parasite with its tax-exempt status.
I find all of this to be the utmost in political sleaziness. This is the essence of the insidiousness of hierarchical religious organizations - their members are inculcated into giving unquestionable authority and credibility to anybody in a position of leadership within the church; giving the leaders 'carte blanche' power to pursue whatever political agendas they want without ever being called to question.
If I could figure out a way to embarrass the Mormon Church in its underhandedness to promote its political agenda, I would do so. I could write a letter to the editor of my own local newspaper. I could write a letter as well to the LDS area leadership. I'm even considering some sort of placard protest at the front of the local LDS church next Sunday, if I could figure out what I could say that would make some impact on the church members. I also considered promoting a letter-writing campaign to the LDS church from members of this and other lists. But none of these sound likely to be all that effective; any other ideas that this group might be able to offer?
to which the following was a response:
I found the above comments to be very insightful and on-target. By way of trying to address the question in the last paragraph, I have some thoughts that you may consider passing along, if you don't think it presumptuous.
LDS leaders don't give a damn what Church members think, but they care a lot more about their public image. Public protests may be more effective than one might think, *especially* if the media is there, and if the protests show a clear cross-section of "average" folks. A cavalcade of drag queens (no matter how fashionable) will be dismissed as "fringe." I am aware of people who are trying to get a copy of the letter that was read on Sunday. It should be available on the net soon. If you are armed with this, it will provide a good basis for attacking LDS positions and tactics in the press. You must present a reasonable and un-frenzied position if you want to show up the Church's fanaticism for what it is. Belligerent confrontation will not work unless you can really, really make the Church look stupid; many of the Church's top leaders are master Teflon artists, and they have access to some of the world's top PR consultants.
Another thing to remember is that this is being coordinated at the higher levels of leadership. Local leaders do not have any autonomy or larger decision-making power in this matter. The best one can hope for is that they will stop being overtly political and go back to running their local congregations. This means that political pressure must be directed where it counts, namely, the First Presidency's office in Salt Lake. If you conduct a letter-writing campaign, I suggest you target these leaders. Their names are Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and James E. Faust. BTW, the fax number for the FP's office is 801-240-2033. Flood it with letters. You can also call the Church's central number and ask to talk to someone in the First Presidency's office and let them know what you think. I'm not aware that they take opinions, but if enough people call, someone will notice. Make sure you tell them that you are *not* a member, and that your opinion of the Church is lower because of their stance.
The number for the LDS Church Office Building in Salt Lake is 800-453-3860. Finally, I think copies of your letters should also be faxed to the PR firm that handles the Church's PR (the name of the company escapes me, maybe someone else can come up with the contact information). The Church spends millions on this firm, and if they tell the Church that their anti-gay stance is making them look intolerant and foolish, they might listen.
Finally, realize that there are a fair number of Mormons who believe that their Church's antagonism towards gays is misguided and unchristian. They may or may not be willing to help out; publicly questioning or criticizing Church policy can get you excommunicated these days, and few are willing to risk that. [an error occurred while processing this directive]